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Chapter 1 - The Red Moon

Our story begins in Erebonia during the Middle Ages, some two hundred years ago. The War of the Lions had concluded in Western Zemuria, and Emperor Dreichels, a driving force behind its resolution, had been deceased for over a decade.

The Imperial capital, Heimdallr, was a beautiful,  traditional city with rows of cheerful red brick buildings that had earned it the nickname the 'Vermillion Capital.' In one back-alley of the city, however, a solemn mood reigned. Soldiers in military uniforms paced up and down while a crowd of  onlookers gathered to see what was going on. They clung to the edges of the scene, refusing to disperse no matter how many times they were asked.

At the center of the commotion lay a young woman. Her skin was shockingly pale, as if not a drop of blood ran through her veins. On her neck two dark red spots stood out in stark contrast to the pallid flesh.

Seeing this, a middle-aged soldier let out a loud sigh and took out his pocket watch. It was just after six. He gave a curt order to his subordinates to find out who she was, and the woman's body was swiftly carried away from the curious stares of the gawkers. After watching her safely borne away, he noticed a younger soldier following the woman with his eyes, as well. 

'Al. Alphonse.'

He tapped the young man on his shoulder. The soldier started, seeming to realize that he was still on duty.

'...Ah, sorry, Garrard.'

Somewhat flustered, Alphonse adjusted his beret, then hung his head apologetically. Though snapped from his reverie, it was clear that he still had something on his mind. 

'I believe I've told you before to address me as 'sir' while on duty. I am your commanding officer, after all,' Garrard said jokingly.

With a fond pat on the shoulder, Garrard reminded him to stay focused and then left to give orders to the rest of his subordinates. Alphonse quickly returned to his post, silently grateful for Garrard's characteristically thoughtful gesture. Watching this exchange was another young soldier the same age as Alphonse. Scowling unpleasantly, he gave an audible tut.

The girl's untimely demise, though shocking, was but one in a series of grisly murders that were the talk of the town. Most of the victims were young women who had been out at night, and they had all met their ends through loss of blood. Or, put another way, the victims had died after having all of the blood drained from their bodies. 

Furthermore, all of the bodies which had been found had something else in common: each had bite marks on their neck, as if they had been pierced by incredibly sharp fangs.

It didn't take long for word of this to start to spread among the people of Heimdallr, and all who heard the rumors were quick to think of one of the many ancient legends which existed in Erebonia. Specifically, the legend that described immortal, monstrous creatures which roamed the land at night feeding on the blood of humans. It was these very legends that eventually became the inspiration for the mass killings' new moniker: The Vampire Murders. 

That night, after his duties were complete, Alphonse made his way to a small tavern tucked away in a corner of the capital by the name of Alegria to enjoy a late evening meal. As he sat down to his dinner, a pretty girl near his own age with a glossy chestnut ponytail studied him with obvious concern.

'S-So, how is it, Alphie? Is it nice? I hope so. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.'

The girl, Lucca, had been Alphonse's friend since his arrival in Heimdallr about ten years before. A shy, nervous smile tugged at her lips as she continued to watch him. Alphonse felt a hot blush creep up his neck under her intense gaze, but he forced himself to eat. The beef stew she had made had a simple, yet comforting taste to it.   'Yeah,' he assured her. 'It's really good. You've really gotten the hang of this.' 

Lucca relaxed at his words, and with a few quick self-conscious glances at the rest of the tavern customers, she seated herself opposite to him. Her courage seemed spent after this gesture, though, and they sat in awkward silence for some time until she managed a hesitant, 'H-How's work going these days?' 

At the word 'work' Alphonse's hand, which was carrying food to his mouth, instantly came to a halt. Despite the so-called Vampire Murders going on for quite some time, they had been unable to find a single clue to the culprit behind it all. The corpse of the woman from that afternoon flashed across his mind's eye, and the pleasant flavor of the stew died on his tongue.

So young... She must have had family, friends, perhaps even a partner, just like anyone else. She had had her whole life ahead of her, and yet that life had been brought to a sudden end - just like so many others before her. What the criminal had done was unforgivable, but the reprehensible nature of the crimes wasn't the only reason that Alphonse was obsessed with this case. Though, sadly for him, there was very little that he could do to solve it now that he had been removed from the investigation team. 

Lucca's soft voice brought him back from his thoughts.

'Alphie, just...just don't go overdoing it, okay?'

Her kind words made Alphonse realize how tense his expression must have become. Her concern embarrassed him. 

'I'm fine, honestly,' he said in what he hoped was a reassuring voice.

Alphonse was a member of a unit of the Imperial Army popularly known as the Garrard Team, which was  responsible for maintaining law and order in Heimdallr. Garrard, the team's commanding officer, had long cared for Alphonse like a father, and it was his recommendation that led Alphonse to join the army and become a member of the team. Since then, he lived in a dormitory near the army's guardhouse.

His meal at the tavern finished, he sketched Lucca a quick goodbye and took his usual route back towards 

The dormitory. An eerie red-colored moon hung full in the sky, bathing the brick buildings in a bewitching carmine glow. Walking along, Alphonse couldn't help but notice that the number of people on the streets at night was much smaller of late. Considering the culprit behind the Vampire Murders still hadn't been found, that was hardly surprising, though. And yet, despite the fact that barely anyone dared to take to the streets, new victims kept appearing one after another, as if to mock the soldiers who patrolled in the dead of night to keep them safe. The sense of fear in the city increased by the day, and was a deep unease shared by all, even the soldiers. Silently, he swore to himself yet again that he would stop at nothing to catch whoever was responsible and bring them to justice.

'...Hmm?'

Suddenly, Alphonse stopped in his tracks, his troubled thoughts interrupted by the sight of an unaccompanied woman walking ahead of him. The deep shadows blanketing the path made it difficult to be certain, but she seemed unsteady on her feet. To his further surprise, she then turned and disappeared down an even darker back-alley. 

Considering the ongoing Vampire Murders, it was hard to believe that anyone could be so careless. With a resolute air, Alphonse set about following the woman, determined to call out to her and try to prevent her from coming to any harm. He entered the back-alley.

Gloom obscured all but the sharpest of angles. He squinted, willing his eyes to adjust. The soft outline of a woman's back took shape in the depths of the alley.

'Excuse me, miss, I'm not sure it's wise to be--'

Alphonse forgot what he was going to say. 

Something was wrong. Slowly, the woman turned to face him. Her head hung limply to the side, long hair masking her face. A hint of eyes could be seen through the wild locks, but they held no focus, no awareness. She opened her mouth and moaned.

Horrified by the disturbing figure before him, Alphonse froze. In an instant she was on him. Arms outstretched, she lunged and seized his neck in a crushing grip. Taken completely by surprise, he fell backwards, the weight of her pinning him down. Slowly, methodically, she began to squeeze.

'Gaaaah...?!' he croaked. 

How could that seemingly lifeless woman be capable of such unnatural strength? No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't pry her hands from around his windpipe. All his training, his youthful strength... none of it seemed to count for anything against those unyielding claws. Her fingers dug deeper still, and the already painful absence of air became indescribable agony.

From his low vantage point, Alphonse was able to see more of the woman's face now. It swam in and out of view of his oxygen starved brain, but her pale flesh was almost luminous against the darkness of the night. Her lips were chapped and colorless. As she squeezed they began to part in a hungry leer, the edges splitting. 

Dinner.

Although Alphonse could barely understand what was happening, his instincts knew exactly what the woman was about to do. He bucked and writhed desperately in her grip, but her hold was too great. Black began seeping into his vision. Even as he remembered the saber belted to his waist, he was too weak to draw it.

The blank-eyed woman thrust her face eagerly towards his neck, teeth bared and mouth yawning wide. Alphonse began to close his eyes. Death seemed his only choice. ...But just then, the world in his fading view exploded.

第1回 赤い月

 歴史はおおよそ200年ほどの昔、中世の時代に遡る。

西ゼムリアの大国?エレボニア帝国で〈獅子戦役〉が終結し、その立役者であるドライケルス帝が没してから十数年の月日が流れたその時代。

帝都ヘイムダル。緋色のレンガを基調とした建物が建ち並び、〈緋の帝都〉の名を冠する美しくも伝統的な都市──その一角に存在する裏通りは、早朝から軍服に身を包んだ軍人たちが行き来し、注意しても解散しない野次馬たちも相まって、物々しい雰囲気に包まれていた。

騒ぎの中心には、若い女性が横たわっている。年齢は20代前半だろうか。彼女の肌はぞっとするほどに青白く染まっており、血の気は全く感じられない。 

首筋には、濃く黒ずんだ赤の斑点が2つあった。それを見た壮年の軍人は、大きくため息をついて懐中時計を取り出した。

時間は6時を少し過ぎた頃だ。

帝都の治安維持部隊を任される彼は「身元の確認を急げ」と部下に指示を出すと、手際よく女性の遺体が運び出される。それを見送った先で、その行方を目で追う、見知った若き軍人の姿 に気づく。

「アル──アルフォンス」

肩をポンと叩いて名前を呼ぶと、彼はようやく職務中だったことを思い出す。

「……すまない、おじさん」 

 慌てて意味もなく軍帽を整えたアルフォンスが申し訳なさそうに頭を下げる。その表情はなおも、何かを思いつめているように見える。

「仕事中は“隊長”と呼べって言ったろう」

 冗談めかして笑うガラードは、とにかく今は集中しろと続けて他の隊員たちへの指示へ向かう。彼らしい、さりげない気遣いに感謝しつつ、アルフォンスは自分の持ち場に戻っていく。

現場の調査を行いつつその様子を見ていたのは、アルフォンスと同年代の若い軍人だった。彼は不機嫌そうな顔をさらにしかめて舌打ちをする。

 近頃、帝都ではある連続殺人事件が起きている。被害者の多くは夜中に出歩く若い女性であり、死因は全て失血によるもの……すなわち、全身から血液が抜かれて、殺されてしまうのだ。

そして、見つかった遺体には必ずと言っていいほど、ある特異な痕跡が発見されていた。首筋に残された、“鋭い牙で咬みついたような跡”である。

 その事実が人々の間に噂として流れると、帝国に伝わる“ある言い伝え”を誰もが思い浮かべた。

 夜を闊歩し、人の血を糧として生きる不死身の怪異の伝承──。それになぞらえて、この奇怪なる連続殺人事件はいつしか、こう呼ばれるようになる。

『吸血鬼事件』──と。

 その日の夜、军での『吸血鬼事件』の事后処理を终えたアルフォンスは、帝都の隅にある小さな宿酒场〈アレグリア〉で遅めの夕食をとっていた。

 傍らでは、彼より少し年下の少女が心配そうに食事を见守る。

「アルくん……ど、どうかな? おいしい? 今日のは自信作なんだよ」 

控えめな照れ笑いを浮かべる、栗色のポニーテールを下げた可爱らしい少女ルッカ。十年ほど前に帝都にやってきたアルフォンスの幼驯染である。 

 アルフォンスは彼女の热心な视线に多少の食べにくさを感じてはいたが、口に运んだビーフシチューは素朴で、どことなく安心できる好みの味だった。 

「ああ、旨いな。大分上达したんじゃないか?」

 その答えにどこかほっとした様子のルッカは、他の客たちの目を気にしつつも思い切ってアルフォンスの向かい侧にちょこんと座る。そして、嬉しそうに微笑む。

……が、すぐに间がもたなくなったらしく、「ええと、アルくん。最近、仕事のほうはどう?」などと无理やりに话题を作った。

最近の仕事——その言叶を闻いて、アルフォンスは食事の手をはたと止める。

俗に『吸血鬼事件』と呼ばれる事件において、犯人の手がかりは一切见つかっていない。昼间见た、女性の遗体の姿が浮かぶ——彼女にも家族や友人、爱する者がいただろう。これからだったはずの彼女の生涯は、突然闭ざされてしまった。断じて许されない。彼はこの事件にとことんまで拘っていた。そうするだけの理由が、彼にはあった。皮肉にも、彼は事件の调査队からは外されてしまっていたが。

「アルくん……无理だけは、しないでね」 

その言叶に、いつの间にか强张った表情になっていたことに気づくアルフォンス。事情を知る彼女に心配をかけてしまったらしい。アルフォンスは头を掻いてから、安心させるように「ああ、大丈夫だよ」とだけ返した。


彼の所属する通称「ガラード队」は、帝都の治安维持を任された帝国军の部队の一つである。アルフォンスは昔から父亲代わりとして世话になっている男、ガラード——まさにガラード队の指挥をとる男の勧めで军に入り、その部队に配属されたのだった。そして数年経った今も、诘所の近くにある寮で暮らしている。

 酒场での食事を终えて、いつもの道顺でそこを目指すアルフォンス。

 空には不気味な赤い満月が出ており、绯色のレンガの街并みを妖しく照らしていた。

『吸血鬼事件』の影响か、最近は夜に出歩く者も少なくなっているように感じる。しかしそれでも、事件は毎夜のように起こっている。深夜巡回をしている军人たちをあざ笑うかのごとく。

 人々が感じている恐怖が日に日に増しているのを、彼は肌で感じ取っていた。

 犯人は必ずこの手で捕まえる。心の中でそう唱え、决意する。

「……ん?」

ふと、足を止めるアルフォンス。暗い路地を、女性がたった一人で歩いていた。夜暗に纷れてよく见えないが、何やら覚束ない足取りをしており、そのままさらに暗い裏道へと入っていく。

『吸血鬼事件』が起きている今、无用心にも程がある——声をかけておくべきだろう。アルフォンスは女性を追いかけることにした。

 薄暗く见えにくいが、裏道へと入ったところで先ほどの女性の背中を确认する。

「君、こんな夜中に——」

そこまで言って、アルフォンスは言叶を噤んでしまった。

こちらをゆっくりと振り向いた女性は——明らかに様子がおかしかった。その头は力なく横に倾いており、长い髪が颜面に思い切り垂れているのに払おうともしていない。髪の间から覗く目は虚ろに中空を见つめており、ぽかりと开いた口は声にならない呻きを漏らす。生気を感じさせない祸々しい雰囲気に、アルフォンスは思わず硬直する。

次の瞬间——虚ろな女性は両腕を突き出し、アルフォンスの首に掴みかかった。惊きのままに体势を崩し、そのまま押し倒されるアルフォンス。彼に马乗りになった女性は、おもむろに指に力を込めて彼の首を绞め始めた。

「ぐぁッ……!?」

それはあまりに凄まじい力だった。训练を积んだ军人である彼の力でも剥がすことができない。徐々に埋没していく指に呼吸を止められ、苦闷の表情を浮かべるアルフォンス。

颜面に垂れてくる髪の毛の、その奥に见える表情は青白く、まさに幽鬼を思わせた。そして、女は大きく口を开ける。口の端がぴりりと裂けたが、それすらも気にしていない。

——食事だ。

アルフォンスは意味不明な状况の中で、その行为の意味だけを直感した。必死に抵抗を试みるが、彼を捉える指の力はさらに増していく。腰に携えた军用の剣《サーベル》を引き抜く余裕すらなかった。

虚ろな女は、喉仏を食いちぎろうと、势いよく颜面を突き出す。


アルフォンスが、自分の死を覚悟した时——

目の前で、何かが炸裂した

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